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Brazil Probes Last Two Socialist Presidents for Obstruction of Justice

Brazil’s federal Supreme Court has opened an investigation into former Brazilian presidents Dilma Rousseff and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, both of the socialist Workers’ Party (PT), for potential obstruction of justice in the sprawling “Operation Car War” corruption probe.

Brazil’s O Globo broke the news of the approval for the investigation by Judge Teori Zavascki, which also includes two other Rousseff associates. Rousseff was removed from the presidency earlier this year and is currently facing an impeachment trial, which will determine whether she is eligible to complete her term. The investigation will be looking into whether Rousseff and da Silva, her predecessor, deliberately attempted to obfuscate an investigation into the state-run oil company Petrobras.

During da Silva’s tenure, and when Rousseff held the Minister of Energy post, PT officials systematically overcharged on Petrobras contracts, pocketing the difference to the tune of billions. Neither president has been directly implicated in the larger Petrobras investigation, though da Silva’s expenditures, particularly a pricey summer home bought while the scheme was ongoing, have attracted police attention.

The obstruction of justice investigation will look into whether Rousseff deliberately acted to protect da Silva following the discovery of that beach house purchase. In March, police brought da Silva in for questioning. Shortly after that event, Rousseff announced that she was to appoint da Silva her chief of staff, a post that carries executive immunity with it. The move ended the investigation into da Silva until a court overturned it.

Following the short-lived appointment, Judge Sergio Moro, in charge of the Petrobras investigation, made public wiretapped phone calls between Rousseff and da Silva in which Rousseff vowed to act and appoint da Silva to an immunity position should police get too close to finding him guilty of any improprieties. Rousseff, da Silva, and socialist PT supporters widely condemned the publication of the wiretap, though millions took to the streets to demand Rousseff’s impeachment following their publication. Rousseff is currently undergoing an impeachment trial in the Brazilian Senate for unrelated accusations of mismanagement of federal funding, which prosecutors claim led to a steep decline in the Brazilian economy.

Rousseff has issued a statement accepting the investigation, adding, “the truth will prevail”: “an open investigation is important to elucidate the facts and clarify that at no time there was obstruction of justice.” Da Silva, meanwhile, has reacted more aggressively. His attorneys issued a statement asserting that he “has never practiced any act that may be interpreted as the crime of obstruction of justice.” Da Silva, the statement reads, “reaffirms that he has always acted within the law before, during, and after his exercise of the presidency of the Republic.” The statement does note that da Silva “is not opposed to any investigation, so long as it observes the proper legal process.”

In public statements, da Silva himself has made even more aggressive statements, claiming that he is the victim of “judicial persecution” before the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

Rousseff has made multiple public statements following the beginning of her impeachment trial in which she has reiterated that attempts to depose her are a “coup” and that those attempting to permanently remove her from her post are more corrupt than she is.

On Tuesday, she called for Brazil to host a special election as soon as possible to replace interim president Michel Temer, who has become increasingly unpopular since taking office. Temer was Rousseff’s hand-picked vice president before assuming the top post following her removal.

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